HEALTH & CARE

How to Help a Cat Gain Weight: From Skinny to Chubby

Image showing a cat eating food from two bowls
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

Cats are the cutest when they have a little meat on them. Do you often scroll through your social media feeds and feel envious of “fat cat” posts? It may become a source of frustration for you seeing other cats looking all cute in all their healthy weight glory while your cat is stick thin and looks totally unhealthy. It is totally understandable—even though being thin may not necessarily mean that your cat is unhealthy, every concerned owner will still want to know how to help a cat gain weight.

Whether your cat is a picky-eater or eats whatever you present (and do not present), and still he is still losing weight, if he’s so thin it seems like the slightest breeze could blow him away, then it is time to take action.

What’s that? You have taken action by feeding your cat more, and yet he’s still rail thin? Perhaps it’s a matter of what he eats and not how much he eats. Maybe it’s also about his level of activity or his stress levels. Devise a plan that pays attention to all these, and your cat will put on some weight and become healthier. Who knows, he may just become the next “fat cat” social media superstar.

Cat with 2 bowls of food in front of her not eating

Among the worst frustrations that haunt cat owners are their cats’ weight and overall health. We understand these frustrations, and we want to help you address these worries. In this article, we will help you understand some of the causes of weight loss in cats and how owners could help address these issues. Read on for some tips on how you can help your cat put on the weight he needs to gain.

The Healthy Weight for Cats

Have you been wondering if your cat is losing weight? If your cat’s breed is naturally chubby and you notice that your cat’s looks are too far from it, you will probably feel worried. As a cat owner, it would help to know what is the ideal weight for cats according to their age, and if needed, even for their breed.

An average domestic cat should at least weigh 10 pounds—but of course, that will vary by breed and age. For instance, Siamese cats could be around 5 pounds, and that will still be considered healthy. A Maine Coon should be at least 25 pounds.

grey cat laying down on a white carpet

To determine if your cat is at a healthy weight or not, have your pet regularly checked by a veterinarian. Vets can also help give you an idea of how your cat should look like for them to be considered in tip-top shape. Experts say cats that have an hourglass figure and no saggy belly are usually considered healthy.

On the other hand, if you can feel the ridges of their spine in a very pronounced way when you’re running a hand down their back (or if the skin of their face seems to be stretched too thin and their ribcage is so pronounced it is practically trying to force its way out of your cat’s chest), then the cat is losing too much weight to be healthy.

Understanding Weight Loss in Cats

Weight loss is a condition when a cat suffers from negative caloric balance. When a cat has negative caloric balance, his body uses and excretes more essential nutrients than he is able to consume.

As a cat owner, you can consider weight loss as clinically important if it exceeds 10 percent of the cat’s normal body weight, which is mostly associated with fluid loss. You can also look out for the cat’s appetite (if it is normal, or has increased or decreased). If you are worried about your cat, it is best to take your cat to the vet to be sure.

Obese ginger cat on weigh scale

Cat owners need to make sure that they understand the nutrient needs of their cats, and information on this can also be obtained from your vet since cats in different life stages require different nutrient levels. However, if cat parents notice severe weight loss, rather than being fixated on nutrient intake only, they should also consider several other factors.

Causes of Cat Weight Loss

If you notice any symptoms of these health issues, it may be time to take your beloved feline friend to the vet:

  • Anxiety, depression, or stress. Like people, cats also undergo psychological stress which could result in a lack of appetite and subsequent weight loss. Some of the things that can make a cat psychologically bothered are excessive noise, dirty environment, the feeling of danger such as when there are other animals or hostile people in the house.

  • Feline infectious peritonitis. This is a type of virus which commonly occurs in catteries. It often causes wasting and cats with this often experience fever that does not respond well to antibiotics.

  • Serious diseases. Although it is heartbreaking to even consider, cat weight loss could be a symptom of a more serious illness such as cancer or diabetes. In most cases, the cats would be lethargic and would choose to hide more often.

  • Intestinal parasites. Cats may lose weight due to parasites or worms. These parasites may cause bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, and difficulty in breathing.

  • Gastrointestinal problems. If you notice your cat constantly suffering from diarrhea, vomiting, or lack of appetite, it could be due to gastrointestinal problems. Have your cat checked for food allergies, infections, and bowel disease.

  • Hepatic lipidosis. This condition is commonly known as fatty liver, which is often experienced by cats. The liver is an important part of the body as it synthesizes proteins and produces chemicals necessary for digestion. If a cat suffers from this, he will have a great lack of appetite which is due to hormonal imbalance.

  • Hyperthyroidism. Now you may also experience having a cat that is greedy with food, and yet he is still very thin. Hyperthyroidism occurs in older cats. Cats with this condition have one or both of their glands enlarged which leads to the overproduction of thyroid hormone. Cats that are affected experience weight loss, increased restlessness, aggressive behavior, fast heart rate, periodic vomiting, an increased amount of stool, weakness, and depression.

Sometimes, the weight loss is also due to the cat’s age. In most instances, cats turning into seniors would lose a lot of weight. If you notice that your aging feline friend is becoming skin and bones, it could be due to the changes happening in their bodies due to their age. This is natural and not dangerous as long as the weight loss is still within reason.

Cat walking on autmn leaves

On the other hand, all of the above are dangerous problems that not a lot of cat owners pay attention to but should actually be mindful of. Those conditions could lead to bigger problems if left untreated, hence why bringing your cat to the vet is recommended.

The Importance of Vet Visits to Address Weight Loss

Cats are especially good at hiding their illnesses so pet owners may not really know when they are sick. The health of your cat is a top priority, and the best way to detect any problem is by having regular check-ups with the vet. As an expert, your vet will be able to detect any illness your cat may be afflicted with.

Little kitten on weight scale at the veterinarian

Vets can also greatly help address weight loss problems in animals. Apart from assessing the overall health condition of your cat, they can also help plan your cat’s diet. They can discuss with you everything that your cat needs in terms of diet, physical activity, and other needs to help them cope.

Veterinarians may request diagnostic tests on pets. They will determine if the weight loss is due to medical reasons. Once the test results are in, the vet will also determine the treatment, fitness plan, feeding schedule, and other ways to help the cat regain his weight.

How to Help a Cat Gain Weight

As the hooman, you can help nurse your feline friend back to health. With the help of your vet, planning your cat’s meals, activities, and food supplements will be easier. Apart from these, there are several ways through which you can work together to reach a healthy weight for your cat.

Understand the Dietary Needs of Your Cat in a Specific Life Stage or Condition

The reason why the very first thing that you need to do is to have your cat checked out by a veterinarian is to assess your cat’s state of health accurately. The vet will be able to identify which nutrients your cat is deficient with. They usually follow a formulation that involves a nutritional analysis of the food ingredients that fits a cat’s life stages or current needs.

A cat on the table with a plate in front of her

To evaluate the percentage of nutrients, experts use dry matter basis, which is why most dry cat foods have more protein than their wet counterparts. Cats also undergo a feeding test method to evaluate their capacity to digest and absorb nutrients. Despite the wide range of food available out there, it is still best if you could give your cat ones that best suit their nutritional needs as assessed by experts.

Choose the Right Cat Food

A cat owner may have read every cat food label and still feel clueless as to what each means. Feeding high-quality food to your cat plays a great role in helping him gain weight. With endless choices, you have to learn how to narrow down ones that will give your cat the nutrients he really needs.

After sitting down with your vet and identifying which nutrients your cat is lacking, the second thing that you need to do is choose the right cat food. Your vet may have recommended some nutrient-rich options, but apart from the nutrients and ingredients, you also have to identify what type is preferred by your cat.

tabby cat eating food out of a bowl

There are two main types of cat food available: wet cat food and dry cat food. There is a long-standing debate among cat owners about which of the two types is the best for cats. Most opt to leave out dry food for fear that it will leave their cats dehydrated.

Canned cat food is 70 to 80 percent water. Some cats may prefer wet canned food because it is more palatable. If cats find their food tastier, they are more likely to appreciate it and will eat more. But at the same time, some dry cat food can also be good for your cat’s health.

Hungry scottish fold cat eating a food on bright background.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to the wet cat food versus dry food debate. In this case, the opinion of a veterinarian matters the most. In most instances, the vet would recommend a specific brand of wet cat food to feed your cat alongside a package of dry cat food. Striving for a good balance between the two is the best solution.

You also have to be mindful of your cat’s reception of the food that you are offering. Some cats prefer dry food while others love wet food. Take this into consideration and discuss it with your vet. Make sure that the cat food contains wholesome meat, soy, and other healthy ingredients. You could also warm the food if needed as some cats prefer to eat their food when it is still warm.

Increase the Food Amount and the Frequency of Feeding

How often do you feed your cat? Cats of different ages have different needs. Kittens require more food because they are growing, but adult cats tend to feed less—sometimes limited to just once or twice per day.

Adding a little weight to your cat is possible by increasing the amount of food and the frequency of feeding. By nature, cats like to eat smaller portions throughout the day as opposed to eating a large bowl once a day. This is because their natural digestive system is built to accommodate only a very minimal amount of food in a span of time.

Hungry cat eating wet food from a white plate

While they eat small proportions throughout the day, it will also help to increase the amount of food and spread it over the day. Splitting a large chunk of food into three or four meals throughout the day actually helps open up the cat’s appetite.

The thing is, just because you love your cat and you want him to gain more weight, doesn’t mean you should be feeding him to no end. What matters more is how much lean and healthy food you are giving. If you want the best results, you will follow the diet plan that your doctor has set.

gray cat eating from food dish

Before adding more to your cat’s meals, discuss it with the vet. Sometimes, the food that they are prescribing will already give the cat the nutrients that they need and adding more may hamper the growth that you are trying to achieve. Discussing it with the vet will help you decide on a proper feeding schedule. Throughout the day, give the cat a lot of fresh water to help keep him hydrated. Hydration also plays a great role in keeping the cat properly nourished.

Give Healthy Treats Throughout the Day

A way to help fatten up your cat is to give supplementary tasty treats throughout the day. It would help boost the cat’s caloric intake if he can nibble on healthy treats throughout the day. It would, of course, help not to give treats very close to their meals as these would make them lose interest in their meals.

Healthy treats for cats

It would be nice to also add some wholesome cooked ingredients to their meal. Human food like unseasoned chicken breast or plain rice may help cats in gaining weight. But of course, there’s not a lot of human food that can substitute cat food, so it helps to be mindful of it.

Consider Competition with Other Cats

Having several cats can also cause some of the cats to feel bad and depressed. Sometimes, cats bully others, and this could keep them from eating properly. Giving each cat a separate bowl is not a guarantee that they will be able to eat properly.

Some greedy cats would take away the food of their fellow pets. As a result, the bullied cat may feel depressed and would choose to hide instead of mingling with other cats. If the case is not addressed, the cat may suffer different effects of isolation such as weight loss, anxiety, loneliness, and even death.

Two cats on which one is eating and the other not

What owners can do is feed the cats in separate places. If they are fed separately, the bully cats would not have a chance to steal the food from the other. It would also help to have bowls with lids so that other cats will not be able to access them.

If the bullying still continues and the bullied cat becomes obviously affected by the hostile environment, the owner can consider temporary isolation. Easing the anxiety and trauma will help the cat find his way to healing. Through constant attention, the cat will be able to regain trust and live a normal life again.

Address Other Health Issues

As most cats actually lose weight because of other health issues, the top thing that both owners and veterinarians should do is to address these underlying problems first. The treatments may entail medication, operations, and therapy. The moment these underlying problems are addressed, the food choices and other factors can follow through.

Give Your Cat More Love

Your affection has a great effect on your cat’s health. As discussed earlier, some cats lose weight because they feel stressed out about the environment they are living in. Perhaps you are away often, so your cat often feels lonely. This could have a great effect on them both physically and emotionally.

Cute cat sitting on a laptop keyboard and looking at the camera

An effective way of supporting cats on their journey to gaining weight again is by showering them with more love and attention. Cuddling, patting, and monitoring them can counter the negative effects of depression. This is the least expensive way of helping cats put on their much-needed weight.

Wrap Up

A worried cat owner, with the help of a reliable vet, should be able to address the weight loss problem of their beloved feline friend. The solutions are rather simple: monitoring the kind of food and the frequency of eating, giving the necessary attention, and treating underlying health conditions. When all of these are done properly, a skinny cat should gain the desired weight in no time.

a woman looking and touching her cat

How much does your cat weigh? What did the vet say about his physical and mental condition and what kind of feeding plan has the vet created for the cat? Let us know your opinion by placing a comment in the section below!

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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